"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
-George Bernard Shaw
"Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."
“No one can lose either the past or the future - how could anyone be deprived of what [one] does not possess? ... It is only the present moment of which either stands to be deprived: and if this is all [one] has, [one] cannot lose what [one] does not have.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
You cannot change the past and you cannot predict the future, and yet how much of your time is spent concerned about one or the other?
In contrast to the lack of control you have over past and future, the present is very much in your hands and, Marcus Aurelius suggests, it is the only thing you possess that you can really lose.
As I reflect on my own experience, I notice a pattern of "losing the present" and it's almost always self-inflicted. I ruminate over something from earlier in the day or the week and lose the present. I worry about some upcoming situation and lose the present. A free moment opens up in my day and, as if I were present-phobic, I root around for something to ruminate, worry or distract me.
To me, this is the "deprivation" that Aurelius speaks of. The good news is that we have incredible control over the present if only we could strengthen our ability and resolve to do so.
I find it interesting that the book that gave rise to this blog is called Meditations because, to me, meditation (and mindfulness) is the perfect place to start to begin to recapture the present.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a practice that is intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the ability to aware of our moment to moment experience, including our thoughts and feelings, and not becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is taking place.
Besides just generally making you feel better, these practices have been proven to contribute to:
*Lowered blood pressure
*Reduced release of the stress hormone cortisol
*Improved immune system
*Slowed age-related atrophy of the brain
*Mitigate anxiety and depression
*Improve focus and productivity
There are numerous places you could begin in order to find out more about meditation and mindfulness. I recommend an app called "10% Happier," which was developed by Dan Harris, who wrote a book by the same name. I have struggled to establish a meditation practice for many years and this app has helped me be more consistent than ever before.
The pitch is tremendously practical and relatable. Basically, it's for people who are resistant or skeptical about meditation and works to dispel the myths that perpetuate these barriers with simple steps for establishing an effective meditation practice.
I encourage you to find out more, the only thing you have to lose is the present.
Other Mindfulness/Meditation Authors:
Jeff Warren- writer and and author of, "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics."
Shinzen Young- teacher and developer of Unified Mindfulness.
I don't quite remember how I stumbled across Jeffrey Young's, "Early Maladaptive Schemas," but it is something that I found immediately helpful and, since then, I have been using it more than any other session aide in my work with clients.
Dr. Young's summary stems from Schema theory which asserts that there are 18 common self-defeating patterns which can manifest during childhood that stem from unmet basic emotional needs. These can result in unhealthy coping patterns including surrender, avoidance, overcompensation and lead to suffering.
Which one of these has gotten a hold of you?
I usually send new clients a link after the 1st or 2nd session and follow up with them at the next appointment. I have yet to find someone who doesn't relate to at least one of the schemas and often they relate to several.
The reason I consistently go back to these ideas is that everyone was a child at one point and everyone did whatever they could do to survive (i.e. get their emotional needs met or cope with not getting them met). By reviewing the schema list, clients have an opportunity to begin to make sense of why they do what they do and why they feel what they feel. Almost every time, clients and I can draw direct lines between the schema(s) they identify with and the issues that have brought them to therapy.
I invite you to take a look to see if this helps you to understand yourself a little bit better. Depending on what you discover, I encourage you to consider following up with a counselor to figure out how you can begin to free yourself from the schema that is putting limitations on your life.
In Byron Katie's book, Loving What Is, she presents a simple exercise that can help free you from thoughts that cause suffering and paralysis and create possibility for positive change.
If you are suffering from low self-esteem, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, irritability or any sort of discomfort, I invite you to take a moment to identify the thought that lies at the heart of this feeling. Ask that feeling, "What are you trying to say?" If you are feeling lonely, the thought could be, "I'm unworthy of others." If you are feeling are anxious, the thought might be, "I don't have what it takes and I'm going to fail."
Once you've identified the thought. Ask yourself these questions:
1) Is it true? Can you absolutely know it is true with 100% certainty?
2) How do you feel when you have this thought?
3) Who would you be without this thought?
4) Turn the thought around (i.e. "I'm worthy of others," I'm not going to fail."). Is the turnaround thought true, or truer, than the original thought?
I encourage you to take your time with each of these questions and answer them as completely as possible.
This exercise does not promise to immediately take all your suffering away but it does offer a perspective on how to view your pain. This shift in understanding creates empowerment and the possibility for profound change.
For more about Byron Katie, click here.
Exulansis: n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.
Do you ever have a feeling or an experience that you struggle to put into words?
This is something that happens to most of us. Whenever I experience it, I'm reminded of the importance and the limitations of language.
A person's experience of reality is dictated by the depth of language they have to describe it. As soon as I realized this, it has become something that is hard to unsee.
On a day-to-day basis, most of the phrases we use consist of cliches and conventions that help us efficiently complete our social interactions with one another. We sacrifice depth for utility. We water down our language to make it understandable to others, sometimes at the cost of true understanding and connection.
Of course, this makes sense to do, it would be cumbersome to go through every conversation with the pressure to make sure the other understood the depth and complexity of what you are experiencing.
I think the unfortunate cost of this habit can be lack of intimacy, confusion and loneliness when this superficiality characterizes our understanding of ourselves and the way we communicate with those we are close with.
What if we approached our conversations with the intent of finding just the right words to describe what you are trying to say and we knew we had found those words based on the "aha" feeling inside that we have when we experience epiphany?
How would our relationships be impacted if, when we shared these experiences, we felt that other person was truly understanding and empathizing with our unique inner experience?
This is an invitation to begin to think about how you communicate with others and a suggestion that there is an opportunity for deeper connection right now. The best place to start may be with the person if your life that you trust the most.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Increasing your ability to think and communicate in this way takes practice. Regardless, I believe that, by merely shifting your awareness and intention, you can start having more satisfaction in your relationships.
Focusing is a technique that helps people strengthen this ability to attune, understand and describe inner experience. For more information, watch this video of Eugene Gendlin, the founder of Focusing, introducing the process.
A great book about our relationship with language and how language is both grounded in our experience of the natural world and but can also disconnect us from it is David Abram's, The Spell of the Sensuous.
Below is fun exercise to get you thinking about experiences you may dismiss because you didn't know how to explain them.
Content was taken from Writing About Writing
Once in a yoga class I was introduced to a breathing technique I want to share. It is called the 4-7-8 or "Relaxing Breathe" exercise. Thousands of years of tradition as well as recent scientific study has confirmed that this breathing technique, and ones like it, help you successfully achieve a calm state. As with most things, it is more effective with practice. By engaging in this practice you are training your nervous system to more easily achieve and maintain a relaxed state.
Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
Dr. Weil says:
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass. Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens - before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.
For more information and additional breathing techniques visit www.drweil.com
Are you aware that the way you are feeling right now is largely influenced by the way that you are talking to yourself?
All of us have an inner dialogue that is going on throughout the day and, for the most part, this goes on with little awareness.
When we notice discomfort, whether it be unhappiness or some other emotional distress, and we do not know where it is coming from, we often look at our environment for answers. We can convince ourselves that this person, or this situation, is making us feel this way. Of course the people and events of our lives do have some bearing on how we feel but is often more true that our thoughts and interpretations are the source of our suffering.
I invite you to read through these common thinking distortions and see if any of them sound familiar.
If you do notice 1-2 distortions that are particularly prevalent in your life, why not set an intention to notice these throughout the day? Awareness is key, if you can become aware of it as it's happening, then you create the choice as to whether to stay in that thought or challenge it.
Try using the questions from my previous post (4 questions that could change your life) to help dispute these unhelpful (and usually false!) thoughts.
We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.
2. Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking).
In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure — there is no middle ground. You place people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
In this cognitive distortion, we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.
4. Jumping to Conclusions.
Without individuals saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us.
For example, a person may conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward them but doesn’t actually bother to find out if they are correct. Another example is a person may anticipate that things will turn out badly, and will feel convinced that their prediction is already an established fact.
We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”).
For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may inappropriately shrink the magnitude of significant events until they appear tiny (for example, a person’s own desirable qualities or someone else’s imperfections).
With practice, you can learn to answer each of these cognitive distortions.
Personalization is a distortion where a person believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to the person. We also compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc.
A person engaging in personalization may also see themselves as the cause of some unhealthy external event that they were not responsible for. For example, “We were late to the dinner party and caused the hostess to overcook the meal. If I had only pushed my husband to leave on time, this wouldn’t have happened.”
7. Control Fallacies.
If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as helpless a victim of fate. For example, “I can’t help it if the quality of the work is poor, my boss demanded I work overtime on it.” The fallacy of internal control has us assuming responsibility for the pain and happiness of everyone around us. For example, “Why aren’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?”
8. Fallacy of Fairness.
We feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. As our parents tell us when we’re growing up and something doesn’t go our way, “Life isn’t always fair.” People who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative because of it. Because life isn’t “fair” — things will not always work out in your favor, even when you think they should.
We hold other people responsible for our pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem. For example, “Stop making me feel bad about myself!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotions and emotional reactions.
We have a list of ironclad rules about how others and we should behave. People who break the rules make us angry, and we feel guilty when we violate these rules. A person may often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they have to be punished before they can do anything.
For example, “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.” Musts and oughts are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When a person directs should statements toward others, they often feel anger, frustration and resentment.
11. Emotional Reasoning.
We believe that what we feel must be true automatically. If we feel stupid and boring, then we must be stupid and boring. You assume that your unhealthy emotions reflect he way things really are — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
12. Fallacy of Change.
We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or cajole them enough. We need to change people because our hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.
13. Global Labeling.
We generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment. These are extreme forms of generalizing, and are also referred to as “labeling” and “mislabeling.” Instead of describing an error in context of a specific situation, a person will attach an unhealthy label to themselves.
For example, they may say, “I’m a loser” in a situation where they failed at a specific task. When someone else’s behavior rubs a person the wrong way, they may attach an unhealthy label to him, such as “He’s a real jerk.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded. For example, instead of saying someone drops her children off at daycare every day, a person who is mislabeling might say that “she abandons her children to strangers.”
14. Always Being Right.
We are continually on trial to prove that our opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and we will go to any length to demonstrate our rightness. For example, “I don’t care how badly arguing with me makes you feel, I’m going to win this argument no matter what because I’m right.” Being right often is more important than the feelings of others around a person who engages in this cognitive distortion, even loved ones.
15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy.
We expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone is keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.
This list was provided by psychcentral.com
In small ways and in profound ways, the ethics and norms of our use of technology continues to lag behind it's ubiquitous presence in our lives. This article discusses one of the real side effects and challenges us to consider the cost of convenience.
Click here: The Epidemic of Facelessness
After you have made time to gather and strengthen skills that help you manage difficult emotions such as mindfulness, meditation, grounding, breathing techniques, progressive relaxation etc. you may be ready to use radical acceptance. Among other things, it is a way to experience freedom from the past and weather difficult events and feelings without avoiding or rejecting them. The result is a reduction in the power they have over you and your life.
What is Radical Acceptance?
-Radical means all the way, complete and total.
-When you cannot keep painful events and emotions from coming your way.
-It is accepting in your mind, your heart and your body.
-It's when you stop fighting reality, stop throwing tantrums because reality is not the way you want it, and let go of bitterness.
What has to be accepted?
-Reality is as it is (the facts about the past and the present are facts, even if you don't like them).
-There are limitations on the future for everyone (but only realistic limitations need to be accepted).
-Everything has a cause (including events and situations that cause you pain and suffering).
-Life can be worth living with painful events in it.
Why accept reality?
-Rejecting reality does not change reality.
-Changing reality requires first accepting reality.
-Pain can't be avoided; it is nature's way of signaling that something is wrong.
-Rejecting reality turns pain into suffering.
-Refusing to accept reality can keep you stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger, sadness, shame or other painful emotions.
-Acceptance may lead to sadness, but deep calmness usually follows.
-The path out of hell is through misery. By refusing to accept the misery that is part of climbing out of hell, you fall back into hell.
From DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan.